Sola Ecclesia?

church

Not the Roman Catholic kind, which is set over against sola scriptura, but rather the paleo-Protestant kind that flows from sola scriptura. Or the kind that is also at loggerheads with a neo-Calvinism that, despite its noble intentions to give creation essential affirmation and practical meaning, actually has the unintended and ignoble effect of undermining the only institution Jesus ordained in during his earthly ministry. As David VanDrunen explains, whatever else neo-Calvinism is all about, the natural upshot of its efforts is to diminish the supernatural importance and necessity of the institutional church, with all her contemplations and rituals:

Neo-Calvinism is a diverse movement. Its adherents land both to the left and the right of the socio-political spectrum and have different degrees of devotion to the orthodox system of Reformed theology. What unites them, however, is significant. When I refer to “neo-Calvinism” I have in mind a form of Christianity that promotes worldview thinking, a creation-fall-redemption paradigm for reading Scripture, and the transformation of this world’s cultures…Another common characteristic of neo-Calvinism, amidst its diversity, is its dedication to putting the church in its place. That may seem unnecessarily pejorative, but I believe it is not unfair. What I mean is that neo-Calvinism, if it is united by anything, is united by a desire to promote Christian cultural engagement, the goodness of all lawful vocations, and a “kingdom vision” that includes but by no means is limited to the church. Conceptions of Christianity that are overly church-focused—and hence restricted in their kingdom vision—come in for special critique. Neo-Calvinism aims to convince believers that Christianity is about all of life and that their common occupations are just as holy and redeemable as their pastor’s work and their own worship on Sunday. Of course none of its proponents are anti-church and many of them are dedicated servants of the church. It seeks to elevate other institutions and activities rather than lower the church’s status, but the effect is still to ensure that the church does not have too prominent a place in the Christian life, for the sake of a holistic kingdom vision.

…The Lord Jesus Christ did not come to raise up followers who would transform the cultures of this world. Christ came as the Last Adam to achieve the original goal of the First Adam under the covenant of works: the new heaven and new earth. By his perfect obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension Christ has succeeded. By virtue of his achievement Christians, by faith, share in his verdict of justification, his heavenly citizenship, and his everlasting inheritance. Redemption does not put Christians back on track to accomplish the original goal of the First Adam through their own cultural work—Christ has already done that on their behalf perfectly and finally. Misunderstanding this point is perhaps the fatal flaw of neo-Calvinism. Until the day when Christ returns he has ordained that his people be pilgrims in this world and be gathered together in the church.

It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the fact that the church was the only institution that the Lord Jesus established in this world during his earthly ministry. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God; that is, the new creation, the original goal of the human race under the covenant of works. Yet if we scour the Gospels we find but one institution that Jesus associates with the kingdom and but one to which Jesus points to find the power and the ethic of the kingdom at work here and now. Jesus did not establish the family or civil government, but simply affirmed their legitimacy. He did not lay out plans for kingdom businesses. Families, governments, and businesses already existed under God’s providential rule and were common in the cultures of this world long before the kingdom was announced. Jesus established his church. Unlike the cultural institutions of this world, Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church alone. He entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the church alone. He commissioned disciplinary procedures reflecting the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount for the church alone. He promised, to the church alone, that where two or three are gathered in his name he himself will be there among them.

Christ came, in other words, not to transform the cultures of this world but to win the kingdom of God, the new creation, which will be cataclysmically revealed out of heaven on the last day, and to establish the church, for the time being, as a counter-cultural institution that operates not according to the cultures of this world but in anticipation of the life of the age-to-come. The church has its own doctrine, its own worship, its own government, its own discipline, its own ministry of mercy, and its own strange ethic of non-violence and forgiveness that defies the wisdom of this world. Jesus and his apostles did exert great effort to shape a culture: the church’s culture. The New Testament makes clear, of course, that Christians must live and work among the cultures of this world, and should be just, honest, loving, and industrious as they do so. But the only culture-shaping task in which the New Testament shows any serious interest is the formation of the church. In light of such considerations I suggest that the only Christian culture—in the profoundest sense of the term—is found in the ministry and fellowship of true churches of Christ operating according to the teaching of Scripture alone.

 David VanDrunen, Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey (pgs. 145-146, 148-149)

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4 Responses to Sola Ecclesia?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Re: “Redemption does not put Christians back on track to accomplish the original goal of the First Adam through their own cultural work—Christ has already done that on their behalf perfectly and finally. Misunderstanding this point is perhaps the fatal flaw of neo-Calvinism. Until the day when Christ returns he has ordained that his people be pilgrims in this world and be gathered together in the church.”

    I think this is the crux of the argument. However, DVD’s language here may be misconstrued. It sounds like Adam’s goal was cultural work and that Christ has now completed that cultural work. Getting this straight is especially important in light of the neo-calvinist views of the cultural mandate – you know, that other great commission.

  2. Bruce Settergren says:

    Oops. That was me.

  3. Zrim says:

    Bruce, I’m not seeing the problem immediately, maybe you could elaborate?

    But it seems to me that whatever the First Adam was commissioned to do was fulfilled in the Last Adam, which would seem to include the cultural mandate.

  4. Pingback: With Friends Like These - Old Life Theological Society

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